2022-05-10T22:35:07-04:00Sep 7, 2021|

Helping your children adapt to cultural differences in the classroom

Starting school in a new country requires a lot of adjustment. Schools in Canada may have a different curriculum, teaching style, or grading format than what your children are familiar with. This might be the first time your children will be part of a diverse classroom with kids from different backgrounds and cultures. 

As a newcomer parent, preparing your children for cultural differences will help them adjust to their new environment, make friends, and learn important lessons in empathy. This article will provide you with useful tips to help your children adapt to cultural differences in the classroom.

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The school system in Canada varies based on the province you’re in. Learn more about the school system in Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Saskatchewan

What do cultural differences in the classroom mean?

Cultural differences in the classroom can manifest in different ways. If this is your child’s first experience with schooling in Canada, here are some cultural differences you’ll need to prepare them for:

Diverse group of students and teachers

In Canada, most schools have children from various backgrounds, religions, genders, and ethnicities. Your children’s classmates might look or dress differently, speak different languages, or follow different cultural practices. If your children were previously in a gender-segregated school, adjusting to a classroom where boys and girls study together may also take time. As a newcomer parent, it will be important that you prepare your child for cultural differences before they start school.

Different learning style

Unlike some countries where learning is focused on memorizing facts, the learning style in Canada is more experiential. Classroom teaching may involve not just verbal lectures but also demonstrations, simulations, and visual learning. Even at a young age, students in Canadian schools may be given a chance to present to their class in the form of show-and-tell activities. This combination of instructional styles helps children learn by doing, seeing, hearing, and speaking.

Language differences

Many newcomer children are not fluent in English or French. This can make adjusting to their new classroom more difficult. Language barriers can also make it difficult for children to interact and make friends in class. Schools typically offer English as a Second Language (ESL) classes to students for as long as they are needed. 

Cooperative learning environment

In many countries, the school environment is competitive and emphasis is only on the academic success of children. In Canada, the learning environment is cooperative, with students being given group tasks and activities, as well as individual assignments. Extracurricular activities will also play an important role in your children’s school life and will be essential for their overall development and success. 

Integrity in the classroom

A lot of emphasis is placed on integrity and honesty in the classroom in Canada. Students are expected to do their fair share of work in group assignments and not seek external help for individual tasks and tests. Cheating is considered unethical and is often penalized.

Differences in curriculum

The curriculum for your children’s class will depend on the province and grade they are in. However, there may be some cultural differences, such as the inclusion of subjects like health and sexual education at a relatively early age. Some parents choose to opt their children out of these courses for religious reasons.

Respect and politeness

Cultural perspectives on respect can vary greatly. Canadians are known for their politeness and it is essential that your children learn to respect others, regardless of background, age, gender, culture, or profession. However, asking questions, voicing your opinion, or participating in a debate are accepted and even encouraged in Canada, though this might have been considered disrespectful in your home country.

Different perspective on friendships

A culturally diverse classroom is a great place for your children to build interracial, multicultural friendships. However, it is important that your children be aware of cultural differences that might exist in such relationships, such as the concept of personal space and privacy. In Canada, hugging, kissing, or even standing too close to someone else might be considered inappropriate. Similarly, asking someone personal questions is not acceptable unless you know them well.

Benefits of a culturally diverse classroom

There are many advantages to having a multicultural learning environment for your children. From an academic perspective, a diverse group allows your children to explore different viewpoints and perspectives, leading to better academic outcomes. Kids who interact with others from different backgrounds are more likely to be open-minded and better thinkers.

Classroom interactions also help students learn to accept and appreciate other cultures at an early age. This allows children to develop cultural sensitivity and be more empathetic towards others. The sooner your children are immersed into a diverse group, the better prepared they will be for the multicultural universities, communities, and workplaces they’ll encounter later in life. 

Tips for parents to help their children adapt to cultural differences

Educate your children about diversity and cultural differences

A diverse classroom gives you an opportunity to teach your children about concepts like race, religion, cultural differences, and equality. Have open conversations about bias, stereotypes, and racism and explain why these are wrong. By introducing these concepts at an early stage, you can help your children grow up to be empathetic, fair, and respectful adults.

Some school districts have periods in the year set aside to talk about specific cultures: this is an opportunity to get recommendations and resources to learn more about these cultures as a family. For example, the Toronto District School Board celebrates Hindu Heritage Month in November, Chinese Heritage Month in February, Jewish Heritage Month in May, and Pride Month in June.

Encourage your kids to ask questions

Younger kids might have questions about why some of their classmates look or dress differently. Encourage your children to ask rather than assume. Create a safe, learning environment at home so your children can ask questions and learn about diversity from a reliable source. You can also teach them to ask questions in a sensitive, appropriate manner. If they ask a question you don’t know how to address, look at it as an opportunity to expand your own knowledge and do some research to find the right answer.

Adopt behaviours you want your child to develop

Setting a positive example is the easiest way to teach your children about acceptable behaviours and subjects. Children tend to view their parents as role models and pick up on things they hear or see at home, so be sure to treat everyone respectfully. Find ways to support and appreciate diversity and explain to your children why this is important. Do not allow others in your family to make racist remarks around your children, and if someone does, intervene respectfully to show your kids how to handle such situations.

Express genuine interest in other cultures

When your children tell you about cultural differences or traditions they learnt about in class or from their friends, be sure to listen with interest. Try to learn about other cultures and share facts with your kids to spark their interest. Keep your reactions positive to encourage children to accept and learn from differences.

Help your children improve their language skills

Fitting in and learning can be tough when you don’t speak the language. As much as possible, speak to your children in English or French at home. If English or French is not your first language, check if your children’s school offers an English as a Second Language (ESL) program. In most areas, public libraries offer language training resources to help children improve their communication skills. Children can also pick up language skills through audiobooks and English cartoons or television shows.

Don’t tolerate prejudice in any form

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your children might pick up discriminatory behaviours or words outside of your home. In such cases, it is ideal to have an open conversation, clarifying why such behaviour is disrespectful and wrong. Teach your kids that all human beings are equal and worthy of respect, and ask them how they would feel if they were at the receiving end of prejudicial behaviour.  

Instil a strong sense of identity

As a newcomer in a diverse classroom, your child might experience confusion about their own cultural identity, which in turn could lead to low self-esteem. While teaching your children about other cultures, be sure to also teach them about your own. Make them feel valued by emphasizing positive aspects of their identity and culture. Happy children who learn to appreciate and embrace differences early tend to be well-adjusted, good citizens when they grow up. 

Canada is a multicultural country; classrooms are full of people from varied nationalities and ethnicities. As a newcomer parent, having open conversations with your children about race and diversity is essential to preparing them for their classroom and overall life in Canada.